Skip to content

Penrose, Francis Cranmer

    Full Name: Penrose, Francis Cranmer

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1817

    Date Died: 1903

    Place Born: Bracebridge, Lincolnshire, England, UK

    Place Died: Wimbledon, London, England, UK

    Home Country/ies: United Kingdom

    Subject Area(s): Ancient Greek (culture or style), architecture (object genre), Classical, and sculpture (visual works)


    Architectural historian of the buildings of classical Greece. Penrose was the son of John Penrose, the local vicar of Bracebridge. He attended Wincester College and afterward worked briefly for an architectural firm. He attended Magdalene College, Cambridge University, as an undergraduate, studying astronomy among other subjects and completing this degree in 1842. Under the Cambridge designation as travelling bachelor[sic], he traveled throughout Europe between 1842 and 1845, studying gothic and other architectural monuments. At Rome in 1843, based upon observation alone, Penrose found fault with the pitch of the roof of pediment of the Pantheon. Subsequent research vindicated his observation: the angle had been changed from the original design. In Greece, he studied the classical monuments, taking care to measure them and record his findings. Penrose was one of the first to the entasis of the Parthenon and the intentional curvature of the steps and entablature. The Society of Dilettanti, fascinated by his findings and those of John Pennethorne who had come to much the same conclusion in 1844, sent him back to Greece to confirm his findings. The Society published Anomalies in the Construction of the Parthenon in 1847. However Penrose’s 1851 Principles of Athenian Architecture was the first complete publication on the subject. An enlarged edition appearing in 1888. Penrose was appointed surveyor of St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1852, specifically charged to complete the interior of the church according to Wren’s design. His disagreements with the committee’s in charge led to his intentions being modified. In 1856 he married Harriette Gibbes. Penrose was also an amateur astronomer and published a work on Saturn in1869. He combined interests to study how astronomical phenomenon determined the design of ancient buildings, such as Stonehenge. A practicing architect, he designed a number of buildings in Cambridge University and the building of the present British School at Athens, the latter without fee. A portrait of him at the Royal Insititute of British Architects was painted by John Singer Sargent.

    Selected Bibliography

    An Investigation of the Principles of Athenian Architecture; or, The Results of a Survey conducted Chiefly with Reference to the Optical Refinements Exhibited in the Construction of the Ancient Buildings at Athens. London: Macmillan, 1851, 2nd ed., London: Macmillan, 1888; On a Method of Predicting by Graphical Construction Occultations of Stars by the Moon and Solar Eclipses for Any Given Place, together with more Rigorous Methods of Reduction for the Accurate Calculation of Longitude. London: Macmillan & Co., 1869; Two letters from Athens. London: Published for the Society of Dilettanti, 1847; On the Orientation of Greek Temples, being the Results of some Observations taken in Greece and Sicily in the Month of May, 1898. Proceedings of the Royal Society, vol. 65. London: Harrison and Sons, 1900.


    de Grummond, W. W. “Penrose, Francis Cranmer.” Encyclopedia of the History of Classical Archaeology. Nancy Thomson de Grummond, ed. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996, vol. 2, pp. 872-3; Dictionary of National Biography Supplement 1 (1901-1911): 101-103.


    "Penrose, Francis Cranmer." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

    More Resources

    Search for materials by & about this art historian: